“Coppélia”, Estonian National Ballet, Tallinn, Estonia, 10th April, 2010
For 25 years Ronald Hynd's “Coppélia” has been hailed a success for English National Ballet and other companies around the world. Agnes Oakes (now Age Oks once more) and Toomas Edur were one of the most admired pairings in the ballet and, combined with Edur's conviction that the work would be well-suited to Estonian National Ballet, it is entirely understandable that he chose it as his first selection as Director of the company.
“Coppélia” also forms the first production under the separate identity of the ballet company, which has previously been embedded in the National Opera House brand name. Aivor Mäe, the General Manager, as well as Edur, can be congratulated on this step. My hope is that it results in truly equal status with the opera company, as the latter regularly sees double the number of new productions compared with the ballet company.
Léo Delibes' score is one of the stronger examples in ballet, with hummable tunes, and it has provided a platform for many productions over the years. Often described as “enchanting, effervescent”, this version of the ballet is set in a Galician village, and tells the story of a bickering couple about to be married, and a mistaken identity plot involving a mechanical doll and its doddery inventor.
The company certainly look good in Hynd's classical choreography, and none better than Olga Malinovska as Swanilda. My spirits lifted with each of her variations. She captured the light, humorous quality of the work, with admirable technique, steady balances and precise footwork. Artjom Maksakov as Franz gets fewer opportunities to shine, but makes the most of them and the chemistry between the two leads was believable. The ensemble sections were well synchronised, including a rousing Mazurka. Heidi Kopti was quick and neat, and Galina Lauš gentle and devoted in their Act III variations as Swanilda's friends.
The Estonian staging uses designs by Roberta Guidi di Bagno, previously seen with Deutsche Oper Berlin and Hong Kong Ballet. Unfortunately the perennial problem of Estonia Opera House's small stage means that the scenery and the dancers sometimes look cramped. Most of the costumes are effective, although the wedding scene dresses all have a distracting, sparkly thread that I would willingly volunteer to pull out.
So, a jolly, colourful ballet that this audience enjoyed, as I'm sure many others will. Now comes my problem: the various traditional versions of “Coppélia” are not my favourite ballets. Whereas the original Hoffman story, “The Sandman”, is a dark tragedy, traditional “Coppélia” narratives have a dull, unconvincing, and for me unfunny story, with scant character interest.
In stark contrast, the previous Estonian staging by Mauro Bigonzetti (which exited the repertoire a couple of years before Toomas Edur took over) stuck to the intriguing, original story and, apart from Swanilda and Franz, featured strong dancing roles for the half human doll and for a menacing Doctor Coppelius in black leather trousers. With its quirky, contemporary ballet steps and Escher style sets, this was one of my favourite new ballets from the past decade.
Never mind, with the Estonian National Ballet on good form and the young principals fresh and accomplished, there are still plenty of pleasures to be gained from the new production of Ronald Hynd's “Coppélia”.